June 3, 1935

LIB

William Alexander Fraser

Liberal

Mr. FRASER (Northumberland):

Following the remarks of the hon. member for North Winnipeg (Mr. Heaps) with reference to the fair wage clause on government contracts, may I say that although a fair wage clause may be embodied in the contract that clause does not apply the same in Ontario as it does in the province of Quebec. I am referring to contracts made by the Department of National Defence for clothing supplies for the unemployment camps. Those contacts are let at such a low figure that no legitimate manufacturer can manufacture the goods under the minimum wage laws of

Ontario and compete. I am under the impression from investigation that the minimum wage clause inserted in government contracts is being overridden in the province of Quebec, forcing Ontario manufacturers who tender on these contracts to go to extreme measures to lower their costs. It seems to me that the Minister of Labour should make it his business to see that these contracts are not let at sweated labour prices, because that simply forces the manufacturer into a very awkward position, and as I said a moment ago into a position where he is bound to try to get around the fair wage clause in some way.

I should like in this discussion of the fair wage clause to make reference to another branch of government service. I refer to the wages received by rural mail carriers who tender on competitive contracts for certain routes. The per hour rate that is being received by government employees under competitive contracts on rural mail routes is absolutely scandalous. In many cases it is not sufficient to maintain the equipment. In addition often under the contract price, the rural mail carrier receives about ten cents an hour for the time that he actually puts in od his route.

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CON

Wesley Ashton Gordon (Minister of Immigration and Colonization; Minister of Labour; Minister of Mines)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GORDON:

The rate has always been scandalous.

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LIB

William Alexander Fraser

Liberal

Mr. FRASER (Northumberland):

I am not questioning that. I am looking for some method of correcting it.

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CON

Wesley Ashton Gordon (Minister of Immigration and Colonization; Minister of Labour; Minister of Mines)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GORDON:

It was scandalous even in good times.

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LIB

William Alexander Fraser

Liberal

Mr. FRASER (Northumberland):

I quite agree, but simply because it has been scandalous is no reason why it should continue to be scandalous, especially in view of all that has been stated in the last year before the royal commission on price spreads.

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CON

Wesley Ashton Gordon (Minister of Immigration and Colonization; Minister of Labour; Minister of Mines)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GORDON:

We are all getting better.

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LIB

William Alexander Fraser

Liberal

Mr. FRASER (Northumberland):

Permit me, Mr. Chairman, to cite one case I have in mind, which is authentic and quite definite. One rural mail contractor has to cross twice a day a sheet of open water about three miles wide, maintain his equipment, and make the trip 312 times a year in all kinds of weather, and sometimes at the risk of his life, for less that twenty cents an hour. May I be permitted to urge upon the Minister of Labour as earnestly as I can that, whether the present method is right or wrong he take some steps to see that the minimum wage remuneration shall be applicable to those who are carrying the rural mail in Canada.

Supply-Labour-Fair Wages

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LIB

Jean-François Pouliot

Liberal

Mr. POULIOT:

Referring to what has just been said about mail contracts, it is undoubtedly true that the contracts are often awarded for rural mail delivery at a very low figure. Not only that, but the lucky man who gets the contract often does no work on it himself but sublets it to a poor slave who has to work for half the price, and the original contractor gets the difference for doing nothing, just because he got the contract. There are many such cases of privileged so-called mail carriers who carry nothing but their cheques and have the mail delivered by another person. Such cases occur quite frequently, and I draw the attention of those concerned to the matter.

Fair wages should apply not only to the laibour employed directly on the contract but to the labour employed indirectly in the manufacture of the materials used. Suppose a firm has a contract to construct a post office terminal in Montreal and the contract contains a fair wage clause. Fair wages may be paid to the men who are working directly on the building, but perhaps not in the case of different material's needed. The contractor, who may want to obtain his cut stone as cheaply as possible, goes to a quarry and offers a price. In order to meet that price it is necessary for the owner of the quarry to work his men under sweatshop conditions. The contractor who is really acting for the government forces the owner of the quarry to pay very small wages to men who must work like slaves. I direct the attention of the minister to this matter.

I would direct the attention of the minister also to the wages paid to lumberjacks. A few years ago these men were able to go into the woods for a few months in the winter and come back with a few hundred dollars. In some cases three or four members of a family would go into the woods and they brought back considerable money. Why was that possible? Because decent wages were paid. It is different to-day. I have personal knowledge of several cases where lumberjacks have returned after a winter's work with only a few cents in their pockets. Many others have had to 'beg their way home; they had nothing to show for their work. I am convinced that even though the price of pulpwood is increased through government intervention it has no effect upon the wages paid. A delegation of pulpwood magnates interviewed the government last year in connection with the price of this commodity, but I think it is a great mistake to give concessions to these men without making sure that better conditions will prevail for the workers. I believe that whole meeting

(Mr. W. A. Fraser.]

was pure bluff. They stated that if they received a higher price for their pulpwood they would pay higher wages to the men, but this was not done. One company refused to accept the agreement and the prices of pulpwood and newsprint fell immediately and the men were no better off than they were before. During the last elections these men were told that it would make no difference if more had to 'be paid for agricultural implements and other things like that because the workingman would receive higher wages under the new government. The results have shown that that was an illusion. The government should try to remedy this matter.

There is another matter I should like to take up in connection with the concentration camps where the men receive a wage of twenty cents a day. What is the use of talking about minimum wages when this small amount is paid to these men?

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CON

Wesley Ashton Gordon (Minister of Immigration and Colonization; Minister of Labour; Minister of Mines)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GORDON:

It is not a wage and it was never intended to be a wage.

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LIB

Jean-François Pouliot

Liberal

Mr. POULIOT:

It may be a gratuity, but whether it is called a gratuity, an indemnity or a salary, it amounts to the same thing. I admit that the men also are fed, but the food is much better on the days the inspector arrives than it is on ordinary days. I do not want to be hard on the minister but I must bring these matters to his attention. It is ridiculous to talk about minimum wages when the men in these camps are being paid only twenty cents a day. This is an important matter, but I shall not insist upon it too much if the lumberjacks are treated better. I do not blame only the minister for this but I think he should see that something is done in order that better conditions shall prevail.

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LIB

William Alexander Fraser

Liberal

Mr. FRASER (Northumberland):

The minister says that he does not call the twenty cents a day received by the men in these camps a wage; he may call it a dole or a gratuity, but is he cognizant of the fact that these men work eight hours a day on the construction of public works? Surely the twenty cents per day plus their clothing and food is a wage. I am not a constitutional lawyer, but in my opinion the Minister of Labour is permitting this legislation to be infringed upon or nullified by having these unemployed men used on the construction of public buildings and paying them only twenty cents per day plus food and clothing. How can this or any other government expect business to adopt ethical practices, through legislation or otherwise, when this government is contracting for clothing manufactured under

Supply-Labour-Fair Wages

sweatshop and unfair competitive conditions? I know of one contract for mackinaw coats which was let to clothing manufacturers in two different provinces and which netted, exclusive of overhead, less than thirty-eight cents for labour. The same applies to the clothing contracts being let by the Department of National Defence for trousers, caps and so on, for use in the unemployment camps. The dominion government

I am not particularly interested whether it is this government or some other government-are letting contracts which have been obtained under the most unfair competitive methods known to the trade.

While I realize that it is not within his jurisdiction may I ask the minister whether he will investigate the conditions that exist to-day under which the rural mail service is carried on, from the local post office to the boxholder. Whatever may have been the state of affairs yesterday, the fact is that conditions to-day are scandalous, and before this or any other government can expect the business men or the manufacturers of the country, either by legislation or otherwise, to improve their methods in relation to labour, it must clean its own house.

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LIB

Joseph Philippe Baby Casgrain

Liberal

Mr. CASGRAIN:

I think we should have

some further explanation from the minister. He was not in this house during the last days of the last session of the last parliament, but I can well recall that in 1930 hon. gentlemen now occupying the treasury benches were on this side of the house, and for four or five days in one session they took part in a protracted debate in favour of the poor mail carrier and rural mail contractor. They pleaded for the poor man in the country who was getting only a few cents for each trip. The present Minister of Justice (Mr. Guthrie) and the present Minister of Public Works (Mr. Stewart) were quite eager then to have the Post Office Department and the government of that day given an undertaking that adequate remuneration should be given these employees of the government. Now this government has been functioning for five years and apparently the only answer we can get from the minister when we point out the condition that prevails is the statement that contracts are given to the lowest tenderer. This government has inaugurated, we have been told, a new order of things since the new year, and we hear great talk about reform and new deals all along the line. We have been told time and again that things will be changed throughout the country so that no one will be allowed to suffer. Well, I want to bring this government face to face

with the present situation and to remind my hon. friends opposite of the attitude they took five years ago, when they were all in favour of helping the rural mail contractors and everyone else who did any work for the government. My hon. friends at that time advocated a better standard of living for everyone and urged that these employees in particular should be enabled to earn more money. To-day they face an election with the same situation existing and nothing has been done. They promised that if they were returned to power they would look after the mail contractor; they would see that justice was done. Why have they not done anything during the five years they have been in power? I am surprised that the minister has nothing better to offer than the statement that contracts are given to the lowest tenderer. If the condition that existed five years ago was unsatisfactory then why has not the government altered it, with all its talk about reform and new deals? I leave it to the country to judge.

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CON

Hugh Guthrie (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

When I moved in this

house in the year 1929, I think-

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?

An hon. MEMBER:

1930.

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CON

Hugh Guthrie (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

-1930, that there should be a change in the remuneration paid under the contract system-and if I remember rightly it was that the rural mail carriers should be taken from the contract basis and put on the mileage basis-had that motion carried it would have been done. But my hon. friend from Charlevoix-Saguenay and those around him voted it down; they beat us.

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LIB
CON

Hugh Guthrie (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

They beat us on that

vote. My motion was made at a time when the treasury was full of money-

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LIB
CON

Hugh Guthrie (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

-but now we have struck a depression and hard times, and our policy is to establish the mileage system as soon as financial affairs throughout the country will permit. But my hon. friend from Charlevoix-Saguenay voted down the proposal and so did all the members of the Liberal party then in the house. They said, no, they would not allow it.

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LIB

Joseph Philippe Baby Casgrain

Liberal

Mr. CASGRAIN:

Possibly the motion was voted down under the circumstances.

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June 3, 1935